A Utilitarian Framework for Evaluating the Morality of Abortion

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  1. Avatar E.C. Gach
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    Great post Carr. It’s refreshing to see some philosophical rigor and I appreciate the time you took to address the complexities of the issue.

    I’m not sure if you touched on this early on and it slipped from my mind half way down the post, but in attributing moral worth to the fetus, “because it means the ending of the life of something of value (albeit relatively low value);” it seems like we are leaving out the utilitarian value of the parents’ (especially the mother) feelings. As sentient beings able to feel pleasure/pain, the negative emotions of miscarrying a child that one actually wanted to bring to term, having picked out a nursery, toys, possible names, etc. and then losing all that, would perhaps add, whether trivially or not, to the value of the fetus, not in and of itself, but in bringing it to term.

    But I’m still confused about the left to right along the matrix. While doing so would allow the pro-lifers shared grounds with pro-choicers in support of more restricted abortion, how does that work if one genuinely believes that the fetus has equal moral worth to a fully grown human? I’m not sure how they could adopt that position without undermining their own principles in trying to further them.

    But I understand where you’re coming from, and have had a tough time figuring this out, so perhaps you could offer your two cents.

    I think abortions are bad, we’ll call that view A, so I want to stop them ALL. But because I live in a society that for the most part is rather open to abortion, at least early in the pregnancy, my strategy isn’t working to well (i.e. abortions are still happening). But then I realize I could get fewer abortions to happen by committing my self to view B (your right side of the matrix), so that within a small time period, there would be 75% fewer abortions then before. But now I find myself trapped, because in committing myself to view B, I have reduced the number of abortions significantly, but I have also painted myself into a corner because moral view B does permit of SOME abortions, unlike moral vew A, which permitted none. If I believe all abortions are bad, is it more moral for me to settle for reducing abortions rather than eradicating them, since eradicating entirely seems so unlikely?

    This problem cropped up in an earlier post about taking advantage of third world labor. I want third world people to do better. They get exploited for their labor, but aren’t doing as bad now, but could still be doing much better. Do I support the company employing them, since all things considered, conditions for these people have improved? Or do I hold out for a more absolute improvement of their circumstances.

    These two situations seem to be getting at a similar problem for me, but perhaps you see them as wholly different.Report

    • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to E.C. Gach
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      A major problem with utilitarian analysis is that it is fundamentally distasteful, but I think when we’re talking about public policy, we really have no choice but to defer to utilitarian frameworks in areas where reasonable people seem to disagree. So, please forgive me if anything I write comes across as distasteful. It is, I think, a necessary price to pay for the objective mathematical rigor which only utilitarian frameworks can provide.

      As for the utilitarian values of the parent’s feelings, the experiment to which I refer explicitly asked participants to discount the loss of utility of external parties; for instance, the grief of parents whose child dies of leukemia, the grief of the children of a father who has a premature stroke and dies, and the grief of a mother who undergoes a miscarriage.

      Of course, under the framework above, you could – if you wanted to – attempt to include that kind of grief in your numbers, although I would say that anybody who has a close relative who dies would experience grief and that grief would either be unquantifiable, or one couldn’t really weigh the levels of grief between respective family members of individuals who die.

      Also, introducing this could add inconceivable error to any system. As it is, I imagine grief of secondary parties could be normalized out of the framework.

      I think in general that the framework above is rather sloppy, but it should be thought-provoking. It is true that the line-in-the-sand approach to opposing all abortions is purer, and, if one thinks that all abortions are inherently immoral, it may seem that this approach is the only one to take; but as you said, taking this view effectively puts you out of the public policy debate, since the pro-choice people are absolutely arguing their viewpoints at the margin. I think, since policy does exist along the utilitarian lines I have articulated, it is more effective for pro-lifers to focus on the policy margins. If each aborted fetus has moral value, then each is worth saving and especially those further along in development (assuming that a sentient fetus is of more moral value than a zygote), and it may be that the only practical way to save any fetuses is for now to ignore the tragedies happening far away from the margins.

      I think the general structure of the abortion issue can be applied to third world labor and a host of other political issues. As is happens, I am generally opposed to megacorporations running amok in the back-alleys of the world, but I think curtailing this is more an issue of the impossibility of enforcement than anything else. I don’t really know what we could do to stop Indonesian oil companies from massacring natives or Nigerian oil companies from buying off local despots besides boycott their products on the consumer end.Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    If only deontologists were more utilitarian…Report

    • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      I know, I know, but I tried to include deontologists in the left column of the matrix. Either way, I think practicality demands that we formulate public policy issues where there is deontological impasse in a utilitarian framework, because that’s really all we’ve got.Report

  3. Avatar ThatPirateGuy
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    says:

    Why I don’t believe anti-choice politicians care about fetuses:

    Look at what they legislate:

    ” For years, federal laws restricting the use of government funds to pay for abortions have included exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. (Another exemption covers pregnancies that could endanger the life of the woman.) But the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” a bill with 173 mostly Republican co-sponsors that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has dubbed a top priority in the new Congress, contains a provision that would rewrite the rules to limit drastically the definition of rape and incest in these cases.

    With this legislation, which was introduced last week by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Republicans propose that the rape exemption be limited to “forcible rape.” This would rule out federal assistance for abortions in many rape cases, including instances of statutory rape, many of which are non-forcible. For example: If a 13-year-old girl is impregnated by a 24-year-old adult, she would no longer qualify to have Medicaid pay for an abortion. (Smith’s spokesman did not respond to a call and an email requesting comment.)

    Given that the bill also would forbid the use of tax benefits to pay for abortions, that 13-year-old’s parents wouldn’t be allowed to use money from a tax-exempt health savings account (HSA) to pay for the procedure. They also wouldn’t be able to deduct the cost of the abortion or the cost of any insurance that paid for it as a medical expense.”

    http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2011_01/027742.php

    Any argument that starts at fetuses is an attempt to write women and their needs out of the picture. Unintentional or not.Report

    • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to ThatPirateGuy
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      I don’t follow. Ultimately the issue of abortion should come down to the moral value of the fetus. How the fetus came to be there should be irrelevent.

      My article was about pro-life on the margins, which would include focusing energy and activism on things like partial-birth and late-term abortions; i.e. existing law. Admittedly, utilitarian arguments are usually distasteful, and this distastefulness may include discounting the effects of rape or incest or age of the mother, but this framework is just meant to be a starting point.

      As for women and their needs, currently abortion law in the United States is the most liberal it has ever been (in no small part, I think, due to the pro-life side playing the game under protest).

      Perhaps this is a bit callous, but I think that especially in cases of rape or incest abortions should be performed as early as possible. I doubt there is much vascillation in the minds of victims of rape or incest of whether or not to carry a child to term, although I will admit that I am unfamiliar with the psychology of rape and apologize profoundly if I have offended anyone.

      By no means am I trying to underserve the seriousness of rape or incest as problems. They are both very serious problems and should command resources and attention. But the framework for evaluating these issues should be different from the framework for evaluating the ethical dimensions of terminating a human life.Report

      • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to Christopher Carr
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        says:

        “I don’t follow. Ultimately the issue of abortion should come down to the moral value of the fetus. How the fetus came to be there should be irrelevant. ”

        This is the problem. You are writing out the value of the woman. If you start with this point then you are saying that the woman is nothing but a womb. She isn’t a person with a mind and therefore her wishes as to the risks and hardships she is willing to endure do not matter. This line of argument completely ignores a womans bodily integrity.

        Your statement gets us directly to the reducto ad horrificum of forcing 13 year olds to give birth to their rapist fathers children. Once you tell me that your not willing to force that woman then you know that you have given up the game because then your only reason to force non-raped women is because it is their fault they were so slutty and sexually active.

        This is why the anti-abortion movement isn’t about the fetus. It is about punishing women for being sexual.Report

        • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to ThatPirateGuy
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          I think you’re making me into a straw man. I’m certainly not suggesting that thirteen-year-olds should give birth to their rapist father’s children. I don’t think the motives behind choice should be the province of public policy. We should allow choice at certain stages of development regardless of the reasons and solely based on the moral value of the fetus. At other stages, we should restrict choice, again regardless of the reasons and solely based on the moral value of the fetus.

          I will agree with you that there are some frankly disgusting arguments made in favor of the pro-life position (as there are disgusting arguments made in favor of the pro-choice position), but I am not making that argument. In fact, the basic premise of my entire argument above is that pro-life advocacy does not have to take the standard culture warrior position that sexuality is wrong. It can be all about the fetus.Report

          • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to Christopher Carr
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            says:

            I’m not saying this is what you think I am saying this is what republican office holders use as their guide.

            These are the real motives of people who do things like: be a member of operation rescue, deny clotting medicine to women who have had an abortion, protest/glue shut the doors of clinics. They ain’t heroes, they are anti-sex misogynists which is why they also oppose birth control and sex Ed.

            Addressing the issue without taking women into account is exactly out of their playbook.Report

          • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to Christopher Carr
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            says:

            I’m saying that the pro-choice person doesn’t have anyone to compromise with.

            The opposition is implacable, willing to chip away at every turn, and dishonest or one of those nice sweet people with no power.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to ThatPirateGuy
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          says:

          See, the funny part is that you’re being as inflexible and absolutionist as the anti-abortionists you despise.Report

          • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to DensityDuck
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            says:

            You know your right. I am inflexible on the proposition that women are people.

            I do refuse to see 1/3 of women as either too stupid to know what an abortion is or as monstrous baby killing hags.

            It is almost as if I have principles.Report

  4. Avatar Sam MacDonald
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    says:

    I didn’t understand the question about miscarriages. I wasn’t sure if it was asking whether they were a threat to the mother or the child. So maybe my answer was wrong.

    And was also a little confused by the examples. I am guessing that the “kidnapped by soccer fans” is supposed to be analagous to rape, as i had no say in that matter. But the case involving “people seeds” was supposed to be analagous to malfunctioning birth control. (The screens didn’t work.) But isn’t it important that if used propoerly, the screens (ahem) almost always work? Like, 99 percent of the time, if not more? And that a huge number of instances of people-seeds landing on carpets could/should have been prevented? And on the other end of the spectrum, a large percentage of activists argue against distributing such screens to people who might need them, and argue that using them at all is immoral?

    I guess no analogy is perfect. But it seems to me that this issue is so wrapped up in other things that it makes “metaphor” particularly difficult to employ.Report

    • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Sam MacDonald
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      says:

      > But isn’t it important that if used propoerly, the screens
      > (ahem) almost always work? Like, 99 percent of the
      > time, if not more?

      Pop quiz: if something is 99% effective, and you use it on a daily basis, how long do you expect to go before you have a failure event?

      (hint, it ain’t very long… even changing “daily” to “weekly”).Report

      • Avatar Sam MacDonald in reply to Pat Cahalan
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        I don’t think you comprehend the way “reliability” statistics are generated. It is my understanding that 99 percent effectve does NOT mean that 100 acts of intercourse using a given method will result in on pregnancy. It is more like, if 100 couples use this method for a year and use it correctly, one instance of preganancy is likely to occur. It is also my understanding that a lot of methods like the pill are quite a bit more effective than 99 percent.

        Now, I know at least 10 people who claim that the pill “didn’t work” for them. Some of these people almost certainly used it wrong, or are lying, or some combination thereof.

        Of all the problem we face as a people, “properly used birth control is ineffective” is probably the least of them. In fact, this meme is almost certainly disastrous insofar as it makes people think there is little difference between using birth control and not using it.

        That is, if you use a rubber, you’re probably not going to get pregnant. And if you got preganant, you probably didn’t use a rubber.Report

    • Avatar Kevin Kato in reply to Sam MacDonald
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      says:

      I walked away from the whole line of questioning halfway through (or some part, I don’t know how long of course) because all I could hear was this voice: ‘See? See? I’m right!’Report

  5. Avatar Robert Cheeks
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    says:

    My problem with your indepth philosophical exercise is that it abrogates any possibility of an exercise that is predicated on the concept of the Whole of existence.
    ..and mores the pity because you are a clever lad.
    In ignoring/destroying the psyche (spirit/soul) you’ve, perhaps inadvertently, compromised any possibility of noetically participating in the dialectical examination of the question.
    Which is to say the answer to the question of butchering human beings in the womb should be predicated on an understanding of the nature of the Whole of man qua man.
    By taking the direction you’ve chosen you embrace a deformed reality in which there is no reply other than to appeal to a higher order/authority that you probably have no knowledge of or belief in.Report

  6. Avatar Jason Kuznicki
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    says:

    You awaken after a drunken night out to find yourself in bed with a famous soccer player.

    As a peasant once said after leafing through Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, “I wish I had that man’s problems.”Report

  7. Avatar Jason Kuznicki
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    says:

    A much more serious comment:

    For pro-lifers, acknowledging that there is a continuum of moral value in terms of personhood is the clear rational choice from a game-theoretical perspective.

    True… I think. But we’re dealing with many more variables than the ones contained in your matrix. In particular, Catholic moral reasoning proceeds from Thomist assumptions about teleology and purpose, and I see nothing here that relates easily to it.

    Consider that one highly consistent pro-life position would be to encourage exceptionally effective methods of birth control like IUDs, long-term hormonal treatments, and surgeries. These methods leave almost no fetuses to abort, because they almost never fail. Their track record is proven beyond just about any other methods, but the Church is strongly against all of them.

    Now, the Catholic retort is of course that “abstinence is the most effective birth control,” but this presumes perfect compliance. One reason I didn’t mention the conventional female birth control pill among the most effective contraceptives is that I do not assume perfect compliance. No honest researcher would.

    It appears that only Catholics do so, and even the Catholics only make this assumption for their preferred method. A highly unfair comparison.

    Getting back to my main point, I’m not sure if I totally agree with the analysis of pro-lifers’ views presented here:

    Admitting that a fetus is worth less than a “person” is a slippery slope to infanticide, some might think. We must draw a line in the sand.

    I think rather that they are taking the teleological view. Every fetus is planned, and the plan belongs, ultimately, to God. It’s not ours to mess with.

    A utilitarian won’t see it this way, of course. To a utilitarian, $20 bills are certainly worth less than diamond rings, but you still won’t see him flushing them down the toilet. It’s not a matter of slippery slopes at all.

    But if the plan belongs to God, it’s by no means clear…

    1) why God spontaneously aborts millions of pregnancies every year;
    2) why we’re allowed to cure diseases and even eliminate them from the earth;
    3) why eggs and sperm are emitted, and involuntarily wasted, by healthy adults in the course of ordinary life;
    4) why these cells — bearing, we must presume, the same telos as the fetus — are not of anywhere like the same moral status.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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      says:

      “Their track record is proven beyond just about any other methods, but the Church is strongly against all of them.”

      Well, that’s because the Church isn’t so much pro-life as anti-sex. If you can have sex without consequences then you’ll just do it all the time, instead of going out and doing the Lord’s work. And, as they always say, the best form of birth control is someone else’s bratty kid.

      (And then they wonder why the priests can’t keep their hands off the altar boys, but that’s a different discussion.)Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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      says:

      It appears that only Catholics do so, and even the Catholics only make this assumption for their preferred method..

      This reminds me of an old Catholic joke: What do you call a woman who uses the rhythm method? “Mother.”Report

    • I think the inconsistencies you list at the end of that comment effectively discredit the teleological position, or, if not discredit it entirely, compel some sort of massive qualification.

      The problem with the Catholic Church is that it is a very, very, very old institution, so the systems that it institutionalized long, long ago (in an age where marriage was based not on love but on the preservation of property) and has since built upon are totally inconsistent with present reality.

      I like to tend towards caution on ethical issues, and my matrix is just a starting point, and a fairly unoriginal one at that. But I think its virtue lies in practicality and the sheer fact that it is applicable to reality.

      The gist of my argument is that, if every fetus is worth saving, if every single one is a valuable human entity, the pragmatic choice is to fight abortion at the margins, not only because that is where the anti-abortion movement is most likely to make progress, but also because more developed fetuses may quite possibly (and this is a complete crapshoot, but it makes sense intuitively) have a higher moral value.

      On an sort of unrelated note, I find it completely inconsistent that a religion based on the doctrine of original sin would ever presume perfect compliance.Report

      • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Christopher Carr
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        says:

        “On an sort of unrelated note, I find it completely inconsistent that a religion based on the doctrine of original sin would ever presume perfect compliance.”

        Actually Chris, it’s really, really ‘related.’
        Why would you think that? If a religion follows Augustine’s Original Sin, and the idea of a ‘fallen’ world, then they can’t expect or “presume perfect compliance.”
        Hep me here?Report

    • Avatar Kyle Cupp in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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      says:

      Now, the Catholic retort is of course that “abstinence is the most effective birth control,” but this presumes perfect compliance. One reason I didn’t mention the conventional female birth control pill among the most effective contraceptives is that I do not assume perfect compliance. No honest researcher would.

      The effectiveness of abstinence is one retort made by the Catholic Church, but it’s not the core reason why it opposes the use of artificial birth control as a means to reducing abortions. According to the Church, human sexual intercourse should be open to life (procreative) and be a total gift of self to the other (unitive). Contraception, because it prevents the procreative aspect of sex (couples who use it are not open to life), is viewed by the Church as immoral. Furthermore, the Church holds that evil cannot be done for a good end. The ends don’t justify the means. So even if birth control were to be 100% effective, as effective as abstinence, the Church would still oppose it as a means to reducing abortions on the principle that evil can’t be done for a good end.Report

      • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to Kyle Cupp
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        says:

        I’m interested in how you feel about that interpretation, Kyle. In my experience, very few Catholics support it.Report

        • Avatar Kyle Cupp in reply to Christopher Carr
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          says:

          Christopher,

          I think the argument makes sense if one accepts the premises that God designed sex for X and that having sex while closing oneself off to X violates God’s designs. However, these premises about the teleological meaning of human sexuality are religious claims even though they speak to the nature of human sexuality. I’m willing to accept them on religious grounds, but I’m less than convinced that this teleological meaning of sexuality can be argued for without appealing to religious claims. Attempts I’ve seen tend to fall prey to the naturalistic fallacy. Therefore, I don’t think the Church has the right to require non-Catholics to avoid using contraceptives. I would oppose laws, for example, that prohibited the sale or use of condoms. Furthermore, I find that “secular” arguments against their use are generally lousy or unpersuasive. The example Jason gave is a case in point. A final point: even if one concludes through the use of reason that procreative and unitive sex establishes an ideal, it’s not at all clear from that establishment that anything short of the ideal is immoral. I think Andrew Sullivan has made this observation.Report

  8. Avatar Jaybird
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    One thing that consistently bugs me is the argument that takes the form of “if so-and-so’s *REALLY* believed X to its rational conclusion, they’d be killing people like Bonhoeffer. Since they are not killing people like Bonhoeffer, they aren’t really believing X to its rational conclusion. Therefore they are either irrational *OR* hypocritical. Q E TO THE MOTHERFISHING D.”

    It is possible to weigh different moral obligations against each other… and possible to weigh different ones differently.

    Hell, I think that abortion is morally wrong, but I also believe that it’s not any of my fishing business and certainly not to the point where the government ought to be employed to kick down doors and shoot dogs in an effort to limit it.

    I feel that way about lots of things, actually.

    And there are people (I’ve argued with them) who tell me that I’m a hypocrite for thinking that abortion is wrong *AND* not thinking that it should be illegal. On both sides.

    It’s irritating and betrays a complete misunderstanding of how other people could possibly use a different formula to make their own moral judgments. They must be dishonest! Or hypocrites! Or crazy!Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird
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      “Hell, I think that abortion is morally wrong, but I also believe that it’s not any of my fishing business and certainly not to the point where the government ought to be employed to kick down doors and shoot dogs in an effort to limit it.”

      Then according to, “Since they are not killing people like Bonhoeffer, they aren’t really believing X to its rational conclusion. Therefore they are either irrational *OR* hypocritical,” you don’t *REALLY* think it’s immoral.

      What you think is immoral is to interfere in someone’s choice in that scenario.

      I’m not sure we can compare the immorality or morality of something. Doing so assumes certain things about what morality is and how we use the word that I’m not necessarily against but that don’t seem true on their face.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to E.C. Gach
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        So “X is immoral” (let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that this is a true statement) entails that I am obliged to prevent other people from engaging in X?

        I just want to hammer that down.

        Is that your position?Report

      • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to E.C. Gach
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        It’s the only definition of morality that I am aware of (the presence of ‘ought’). But I’m open to other offerings.

        What def. of the word morality would you use?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to E.C. Gach
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          says:

          I suppose that my definition would be more like “in harmony, for the lack of a better word, with the Tao, for lack of a better word”.

          For example, I think that no-knock raids on marijuana patients are morally wrong.

          I am not killing people like Bonhoeffer.

          Am I a hypocrite? Illogical? Dishonest?

          (Yes, I remember my vector morality essay. Yes, I still stand by it. No, I didn’t think that pointing to that would be particularly helpful in this particular conversation.)Report

        • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to E.C. Gach
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          says:

          “For example, I think that no-knock raids on marijuana patients are morally wrong.

          I am not killing people like Bonhoeffer”

          I’m sorry, could you just re-explain that for me, I’m not up on who Bonhoeffer is or what you’re making a reference to.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to E.C. Gach
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            says:

            Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor who tried (and, sadly, failed) to kill Hitler.

            He’s one of those guys who always gets brought up in ethical/moral discussions because he’s worth reading (rather than being one of those guys who’s worth reading because he always gets brought up in ethical/moral discussions).Report

          • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to E.C. Gach
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            says:

            ah, well that makes sense then, at least the reference does.

            I’ll reset things. Whatever I was talking about earlier, when I use the word moral/immoral, I’m not inferring that things can be wrong in and of themselves (i.e. killing is wrong vs. wrong in so far as it leads to x).

            And I think that’s consistent with saying that preventing abortions in so far as it allows others undue authority over actions that only affect oneself is wrong.

            What I’m still unsure of is whether or not we can maintain with consistency that abortions are wrong and preventing them is wrong.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to E.C. Gach
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              says:

              I’m not inferring that things can be wrong in and of themselves

              I suspect that there are things that are, in fact, wrong in and of themselves.

              Rape is probably the most obvious example (and then, once the camel’s nose is in the tent, we can start haggling over everything else).Report

    • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      “Hell, I think that abortion is morally wrong, but I also believe that it’s not any of my fishing business and certainly not to the point where the government ought to be employed to kick down doors and shoot dogs in an effort to limit it.”

      This is the type of person I call pro-life.

      The person who leaves out the “but clause” is the one I consider anti-choice and actually have an issue with.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to ThatPirateGuy
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        says:

        I actually consider myself “pro-choice”… mostly because of the “I feel that way about lots of things, actually” part.

        (Additionally, I tend to consider most people who call themselves “pro-choice” to be better described as “pro-abortion rights”.)Report

    • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to Jaybird
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      No, that’s not what the left is pointing out. There are plenty of things that are people consider immoral but would not reasonably kill others for. Littering, for example.

      However, according to various people’s on the right’s rhetoric, abortion is murder. In fact, it’s mass, systemic, murder. It is not someone littering or even driving drunk. It’s actually _worse_ than the Holocaust, not in any metaphorical way, but in actual literal truth.

      And if pro-life _actually_ believe that, then they _really should_ be putting bullets in the head of people who allow it to happen as public policy in this country. (And they certainly don’t get to be surprised when people do just that after listening to them, like when George Tiller was murdered.)

      You, OTOH, might think abortion’s immoral, but you don’t think it’s murder. Or, rather, you don’t _claim_ to think it’s murder, as it’s rather clear 99.99% of the people who claim that are lying. Probably even lying to themselves. Which this poll is pointing out in another direction.

      I think a better poll question might be: If the Supreme court decided that, on their 10th birthday, that 5% of the population would be randomly summarily shot, what would you do?

      If the ‘abortion is murder’ people’s response to that question is ‘Attempt to elect Republicans so that law can eventually be overturned in the courts.’, they are consistent, if utterly insane. If it’s something like ‘overthrow the government’ , or ‘shoot the supreme court’, which is a much more reasonable response, well, why isn’t that their response to abortion law?

      It’s the same thing with the ‘death panels’ nonsense recently. If you people actually thought that the government was going to kill old people, the _correct_ response would be mass assassination of Democrats.

      The right can’t continually assert things are mass, government-sponsored murder and then just sit there on their butt. If that is true, it’s utterly absurd behavior, and they _themselves_ are evil for standing by to allow evil to triumph. If the government is murdering people, they have a _moral obligation_ to attempt to stop it by any means neccessary.

      Of course, they _don’t_ believe that, they don’t actually believe it’s murder, it’s just political rhetoric. And recently the left’s started pointing out how insane their behavior would be if they actually believed what they said they believed. You do not stand behind police lines waving signs while people operate murder houses.Report

      • I think this argument relies on a straw man of sorts. Surely I can believe that the death of civilians in Afghanistan is murder without actually going to Afghanistan and launching RPGs at drones?

        There’s also the whole turn the other cheek thing.Report

        • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to Christopher Carr
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          says:

          There is no way you could do that in real life.

          But, yes, if you happened to be standing on the street in Afghanistan, with an drone-shooting RPG at hand, and saw a drone attack at house, and said ‘Hey, that drone’s going to murder people’, and you _didn’t_ shoot it down…I think I could safely conclude you didn’t think it was actually murder. (Or, alternately, you didn’t think murder was big deal.)

          Same with abortion. The left isn’t asserting that everyone should go and buy guns and get sniper training and travel to DC and shoot whoever…they just pointing out it’s an entirely reasonable response, and should be happening a hell of a lot more often, if people _actually_ believed that abortion was murder. (And no one should be startled when it does happen, just like no one should be startled when someone decides to shoot Nazis operating death camps.)

          As I said, a lot of people are standing there, with signs, at abortion clinics, asserting that abortion is murder. None of them have to fly around the world and get a hold of weaponry not for sale to the public and hope to, impossibly, locate the drone attack and stop it.

          Do none of them own guns? Could none of them plan to take out the police guarding the doctors? Could they not zerg-rush the clinic and dismantle it? Do they not have trucks they could crash into the clinic at night, and save a few people the next day as it’s closed?

          ‘Abortion is murder’ people are the possibly most cowardly people in existence, 99.9999% of them just willing to wave signs at mass murderers ten feet in front of them, mass murderers who they know are going to kill people _that very day_, and do absolutely nothing about it…

          …or they don’t actually think those people are committing murder. Pick one. Because their response is to mass murder not sane at all.Report

          • If you delve a bit further into the Philsophical Experiments website, there is one called the trolley problem, formulated by philosopher Philippa Foot. This particular experiment seems to conclude that the lynchpin of ethics is individual action. That is to say that the psychology of morality is such that we can watch murders happening and still find it extremely difficult to kill the murderer. I think this discrepancy which you describe doesn’t reveal any inconsistencies in the full-on pro-life position. It just reveals that pro-lifers are human as well, and I think it’s especially important in this abortion debate to recognize the humanity of one’s opponents.Report

            • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to Christopher Carr
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              says:

              Yes, but ‘killing’ is not the only option. Most of them appear to be perfectly willing to hang beyond police lines around and shout at the murderer. Killing the murderer isn’t the only option…they could drive their car up and wedge it against the door, they form human chains and require the police to physically haul them out of the way, etc, etc.

              They’re clearly not uninterested bystanders, as they went to all the trouble to be there…but, um, that’s it.

              If someone was operating what functionally a death camp and I was going there to protest, I like to think that I wouldn’t stand neatly behind police lines and chat slogans, especially when I saw victims going in. Especially if otherwise the rule of law was intact, and I knew I’d end up in the justice system and not beaten to death by the police.

              Like I said, either they’re the most cowardly people who ever lived…or they don’t believe their rhetoric.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to David Cheatham
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        says:

        Out of curiosity, do you believe that what pro-lifers are doing will end up with women dying in back alleys?

        Do you believe that this is morally outrageous?Report

  9. Avatar Pierre Corneille
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    says:

    I had a few problems with the experiment after I had taken it.

    First, the miscarriage question seemed to be too much of a “gotcha.” I had assumed that it was the woman who suffers the miscarriage and not the unborn. (However, perhaps I’m just embarrassed that I didn’t catch the apparent inconsistency in my own reasoning.)

    Second, I tend to be pro-choice both in terms of my policy preferences and, although with a lot more difficulty, in terms of my view of the right and wrong of abortion. However, my answers seemed to mark me as a pro-lifer, and of course, in the “philosopher’s analysis,” a hypocritical pro-lifer who doesn’t value the unborn as much as he pretends. Again, maybe I’m just embarrassed at being exposed to the apparent inconsistency in my reasoning. I will say, however, that I don’t think I ever, at least in my adult life, failed to recognized that my thoughts on abortion were lacking for consistency.

    Third, the “kidnapped by soccer fans” scenario is an illustration of the type of problem I had with the experiment. I wouldn’t not think the soccer fans had any right to kidnap me, but at the same time, I could not claim that once attached to the guy for 9 months, that I had every right in the world to effectively end his life by detaching myself. At the same time, I do not think I would have had an absolute obligation to remain attached, either. Perhaps my answer (I forget the answers offered, but I did answer to the effect that the soccer player had a claim on me) shows that I am a pro-lifer in spite of myself; but it all sounds a bit sneaky.

    None of this is to comment on Mr. Carr’s analysis above. Frankly, I’m so illiterate when it comes to philosophy that I didn’t really follow what he wrote after he went into the numbers above, so I’m especially unqualified to comment on that.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Pierre Corneille
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      says:

      I have real problems with “philosophy tests” like this, mostly for the same reason as you; they seem to be more constructed around the idea of “gotchas” than an attempt to analyse or discuss actual philosophies.Report

      • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to DensityDuck
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        says:

        I think the point is to demonstrate that our moral intuitions often conflict with our declared moral positions. So I declare x wrong, but then when asked about y which is analogous to x, I say it’s not wrong, and when confronted with this discrepancy I either show that x and y are not sufficiently analogous or that I am in error.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to E.C. Gach
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          says:

          But then we get into the question of why this conflict appears to exist. And what Pierre and I are saying is that the conflict is due to the reductionist nature of the “experiment”, rather than due to inconsistencies in our moral framework.Report

          • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to DensityDuck
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            says:

            The only reason you feel “got” was because you the test demonstrates a seeming inconsistency.

            Now you have two choices. Admit that here IS an inconsistency, and resolve it by relinquishing one of your beliefs, OR, you could seek to demonstrate why it is only a “seeming” inconsistency, and that in fact, your views are logical coherent for reasons x, y, and/or z.

            What are these reductions which are obstructing your moral compass?Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to E.C. Gach
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              says:

              …so you’re saying that the inappropriate reduction that results in a false inconsistency is, in fact, not an inconsistency? That is is in fact a valid result which we should take seriously, and not just as a cheap “gotcha” towards political opponents?

              You sound like someone who’s “just asking questions” about whether there might have been thermite planted in the WTC.Report

  10. Avatar John Howard Griffin
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    says:

    Like most of these discussions, this discussion assumes that:

    a human > any other form of life

    (“>” = more valuable, using whatever morality you choose as the measuring stick)

    I see no evidence to support this assumption.

    Each human has a non-zero negative impact on the survival of one or more other forms of life. Each human means that other forms of life will not be “born”, will be killed, or will otherwise not survive.

    It is interesting to me that this is never part of the moral calculation.Report

    • Actually, I think you bring up a good point. Shortly after I wrote this, I was thinking about whether a framework for abortion could ever be reconciled with a framework for vegitarianism. (Again, let me just reiterate that utilitarian analysis is often distasteful.)

      If you look at neurodevelopment, a human fetus’s brain looks almost exactly like a frog’s brain up until a certain point of development; then it looks almost exactly like a lizard’s brain; then like a marsupial’s brain; then like a rodent’s brain; then like a monkey’s brain; then like a chimpanzee’s brain, and then onward to big-brained human chauvinism.

      I don’t know the exact numbers, but, if we are materialist and if we define sentience as the basis for moral value and if we oppose, for example, the eating of beef on moral grounds, shouldn’t we also oppose abortions after the stage in which the complexity of the human brain surpasses the complexity of the cow’s brain?

      But it seems like vegetarians and vegans are always pro-choice or liberal, which seems inconsistent to me. But again, I dont have the specifics here.Report

      • Avatar John Howard Griffin in reply to Christopher Carr
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        says:

        An interesting thought experiment, Mr. Carr. However, I do not define sentience as the basis for moral value. All life has the right to life. Human life is no more precious (has no more moral value) than other forms of life – which is something that almost all humans reject.

        Attempting to create a moral-value hierarchy within the web of life is flawed, due anthropocentric bias and the corruptions of religious belief (dominion).

        YMMV.Report

        • Would you say then that a tadpole or an ant has the same right to life as a nine-year-old girl from West Virginia?Report

          • Avatar John Howard Griffin in reply to Christopher Carr
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            says:

            Unequivocally, yes.

            I would also say that a microbe has the same right to life as I do. No more, no less. Why wouldn’t it? If it doesn’t then that leads us to the calculation of “how many tadpoles or ants lives are worth the life of a nine-year-old girl from West Virginia?” 100? 100,000? 100,000,000? All of them (extinction)?Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to John Howard Griffin
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              says:

              There are two ways to read that (well, there are probably a billion, but I’ll be brief).

              The Jainist take (to grab an oversimplifying example) would be because that’s because everything has so very much of a “right to life”…

              vs. the Fuggit take (to grab an even more oversimplifying example) which is because everything doesn’t really have much of a “right to life” at all.Report

            • Excepting certain forms of mysticism, animism, and pantheism, where the lifestuff that flows through all of nature is one, which is a viewpoint that can effectively eliminate the distinctions between species, how does one reconcile your view with the fact that development recapitulates macro-evolution?

              There are many misconceptions about evolution, such as that it operates at random. While the mutations to individual base-pairs are likely random (or stochastic, or even predictable in some fashion beyond the current conceptual abilities or relevance of science), phenotypes have followed a clear negentropic trend towards more and more complex organisms. The key understanding here is that phenotypes are seldom disgarded. They are usually just built over or merged into more complex organisms, which then replace or drive to the margins their “parents”.

              If you look at the human nervous system for instance, it is more or less a permutation on the nervous system of amphioxus, and on top of this is a fish brain and on top of this is a frog brain, and on top of this is a lizard brain, and on top of this is a bird brain, and on top of this is a mouse brain, and on top of this is a lemur brain, and on top of this is a monkey brain, and on top of this is a chimpanzee brain, and on top of this is a homo erectus brain, and on top of this is a modern human brain. (Admittedly this is a gross oversimplification and inaccurate, but it is relevant to the following point.)

              In this sense, one human organism is also one homoerectus plus one chimpanzee plus one monkey plus one lemur plus one mouse plus one bird plus one lizard plus one frog plus one amphioxus (plus one sponge plus one (actually many) eukaryote plus one (actually many) prokaryote, etc.)

              It seems impossible that if one human life encompasses all those other organisms, one human life cannot be worth more than the life of one bacterium given that one human is effectively (quite literally as well) composed of billions of bacteria.

              The question you ask: “how many tadpoles or ants lives are worth the life of a nine-year-old girl from West Virginia?” 100? 100,000? 100,000,000? All of them (extinction)?” I think can be answered in principle (by for example counting up the number of cells plus some other factors, like neural pathways), but our human propensity to error and our lack of requisite data makes asking such a question so overwhelming and energy intensive as to be effectively and practically meaningless.Report

              • Avatar John Howard Griffin in reply to Christopher Carr
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                says:

                In reading this, it seems to me that you are just saying that greater complexity = greater value. I reject this assumption. This is the basis of anthropocentric bias: we are the most complex, therefore we are the most valuable.Report

              • Would you say that a colony of bacteria is more valuable than a single bacterium?Report

              • Avatar John Howard Griffin in reply to Christopher Carr
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                says:

                No, I would not.Report

              • Do you think it’s anthropocentric to say that “two” of something is more valuable than “one”?

                I mean, I’m generally with you on recognizing that all we have to work with is based solely on what has come through our five senses – nothing else – and that these five senses only exist because they ensured the survival of our distant ancestors, so we are making real unfounded leaps whenever we attempt to extrapolate beyond that.

                But I think it’s been reasonably demonstrated that there is some extra-human truth to math, and I won’t allow my doubts to take me to the point where I’m doubting that many of something of value is more valuable than one of that thing.Report

          • Avatar Boegiboe in reply to Christopher Carr
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            says:

            I’d say that, given the choice of ending a life or not, one should consider that life to have a right to continuation in proportion to its uniqueness, or non-replaceability, and its chances for continued survival should it survive the moral choice before one. (Note that the uniqueness of something like smallpox as a species may be so awful to other life that we may choose to eradicate it.)

            Any individual ant has virtually no moral value, since it is virtually identical to millions of its brothers or sisters. An adult human is totally a different story. A person has so much capability for exciting new directions in life, that can then ripple throughout the biosphere, that their life is measured not just in whether they should die or not, but in fact whether their individual choices–their moments of life, so to speak–have value that can balance against the lives of, say, identical chickens or ears of corn.

            A newly conceived fetus is, in most cases, easily replaceable–in the cases of those women who find themselves fertile enough to be seeking an abortion, they may consider it a good bet that they can replace the fetus essentially at will. A particular 9-month span of a woman’s life may be much, much less easily replaced.

            Now, here’s where I think you missed a chance for further political analysis: Isn’t it clear that, if the value of the fetus can vary over time, that the moral worth of the choice can vary as well? See, as the pregnancy goes on, the sexually active woman may notice something awry with her periods, or if she has irregular periods, she may conduct regular pregnancy tests. As the fetus develops, she should really take notice and either come to a decision or go through with the pregnancy. So, her moral right to a choice, based not on the moral value of the fetus but on her own responsibilities, decreases over time.

            I haven’t gone through the analysis, but I suspect, by symmetry with your excellent game-theoretical analysis, that we’d find a similar benefit to pro-choicers to recognizing this fact and allowing it to color their discourse. Which is of course what has happened. Very few people support third trimester abortions except in special circumstances. No one in the West thinks mothers should be allowed to ditch their newborns in garbage cans (hospitals, though, we’re OK with).

            So, pro-choicers win game theory. Probably not on purpose, though.

            As a footnote, I don’t think there’s any real value to your extending your list of child development states beyond birth. Anyone can put a newborn up for adoption with no further responsibility, so “aborting” a newly born child or any later age is never justified.Report

            • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Boegiboe
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              says:

              “Prepare to be assimilated. Your uniqueness shall be added to our own. Resistance is futile..”Report

            • Avatar John Howard Griffin in reply to Boegiboe
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              says:

              A good explanation of your own personal moral-value hierarchy. Thanks for taking the time to think (and post) about it.

              But, it is still flawed, IMO. Your idea of uniqueness or replaceability will not be the same as others, so we will not be able to agree on the values that are placed on various forms of life.

              One human’s bothersome bees is another human’s livelihood.Report

              • Avatar Boegiboe in reply to John Howard Griffin
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                says:

                A moral system doesn’t need complete agreement among people to be the most correct. The Golden Rule works pretty well, but so does the Silver Rule: “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you…unless they give you a good reason not to trust them.” You say you value all life equally. The problem is that you can’t, really. Your life will exact a toll of other lives, necessarily. How many insects were destroyed in the building of your home? How many bugs do you kill with your car when you drive, or fly in a plane? You will accidentally step on insects just walking around.

                If your moral philosophy carries any consequences, then all predatory mammals should be exterminated, because they are the biggest cause of death in our biosphere.

                So, I think you’re not articulating your moral framework enough to engage with. How does your moral framework that each life is equal to any other life guide your actions in other ways, besides forbidding abortions and the eating of meat?Report

              • Avatar John Howard Griffin in reply to Boegiboe
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                says:

                Well, to start with all life has equal value and a right to life. Some forms of life are more destructive to other forms of life, some less destructive.

                I hold pandemic-creating organisms in contempt, but I do not think they have less of a right to life than I do. I hold humanity in contempt, but I do not think they have less of a right to life than a pandemic-creating organism.

                I try to follow the principle of doing the least harm. Many forms of life (photosynthetic organisms and archeo-bacteria beings some of the exceptions) are only able to remain alive because they kill other forms of life – humans included. Yet, humans are much more destructive to non-human life than any other species that we know about. Humans do not following the principle of doing the least harm, which seems to be the natural state of most organisms – they find a balance within the biosphere.

                Humans are the biggest cause of death in our biosphere. By several orders of magnitude.

                I eat meat occasionally. I am not against abortion, I am pro-choice. Death is a part of life, so I consider deaths of organisms to be equal, as well. I would certainly lament the death of those I care about, but do not consider their lives to have more value than any other life.

                I am still struggling with Camus’ ultimate question. Life is truly absurd. If nothing else, the Internet makes this abundantly clear (or, at least, my attempts at ruminations on the Internet makes my own absurdity abundantly clear). It is this absurdity that prevents me from valuing one life (or one form of life) over another. It’s not a popular moral framework, but it is mine.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to John Howard Griffin
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                says:

                Something that *MAY* be a mitigating factor, maybe?

                If there is a lifeform that is capable of moving from here and terraforming another planet from a lifeless one into a life-filled one (you’ve already said that you don’t particularly care about rocks), at this point the humans are the only game in town.

                If Mars (to pick a planet at random) could be transformed into a life-filled world, *THAT* would be the creation of so much life (because it’d split off and create new sub-species within a couple of generations and then all bets are off), that the plus column would quickly be refilled as the planet becomes populated.

                No?Report

              • Avatar John Howard Griffin in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                How would humans determine that there was not already life on Mars – even if only microscopic life – before starting this life-filling mission? Is it even *POSSIBLE* for humans to determine that there is no life on Mars?

                As such, the principle of doing the least harm applies. If there is life on Mars, or even if we are not sure, then Mars belongs to the life that lives (or may live) there, not to us.

                Your example highlights the hubris of humans, the belief in dominion. What you fail to realize is that not only does Mars not belong to humans, neither does the Earth.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                But rocks are cool, right?Report

              • Avatar John Howard Griffin in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Unless they’ve been sitting out in the sun all day, yes.Report

              • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to Boegiboe
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                says:

                I don’t know if you saw the documentary The Cove. I really hated this film, and have blogged about it considerably here:

                http://www.theinductive.com/blog/tag/the-cove

                The Cove is about a small town in Japan where the residents have been eating dolphin for many centuries and suppsedly how this is a self-evident crime against humanity or something because Westerners believe dolphins are special.

                My main problem with the film is not that I think people should go around eating dolphins, but the fact that the film seemed to belittle the honest Japanese argument that there was nothing wrong with eating dolphins.

                Many Japanese hold the ethical position articulated here by Mr. Griffin, as the equal moral value of all forms of life is something specifically prescribed by Shinto.

                The Japanese religious right is quite unlike our religious right, and has been the most active voice against the film being shown in Japan. One of their arguments is exactly as you say, that since dolphins are predatory mammals, their extermination is actually good for the biosphere. This argument seems distasteful to Westerners who grew up watching Flipper and Seaquest (and reading John Lilly books), but it is consistent in a sense; not that I agree with it at all.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Christopher Carr
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                says:

                “…the film seemed to belittle the honest Japanese argument that there was nothing wrong with eating dolphins.”

                There’s a difference between “eating meat” and declaring that sport-killing of an endangered species is a part of unique cultural tradition and outsiders haven’t got any right to judge. Especially when those traditions are invented from whole cloth as part of a Noble Savage legend.Report

              • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to DensityDuck
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                says:

                Whoa, just saw this comment while writing a follow-up post. First, it’s not sport killing, second, dolphins are not an endangered species, third, the Japanese were hunting and eating all sorts of things before they even contacted Westerners, so I don’t know how the Noble Savage mythos fits in.

                There are plenty of good reasons why outsiders are entitled to comment on the eating of dolphins: health issues related to mercury consumption, scientific evidence that dolphins may possess extraordinary intelligence, and, most importantly from my perspective, the fact that the sea (and migrating animals in particular) should be treated as a common pool resource. None of these legitimate issues were fully explored by the film, which relied on sensationalist accusations, misinformation, and overt racism to mass-market a particular strain of cultural imperialism.Report

        • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to John Howard Griffin
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          says:

          Three questions:

          What about rocks? Do rocks have moral value/worth?

          How are you defining life, how do you know when something is alive?

          Can somethings be more or less alive than others?Report

          • Avatar John Howard Griffin in reply to E.C. Gach
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            says:

            I’d say no to rocks.

            Defining life is a difficult proposition that humans have been struggling with for a long time. This is the slippery slope with attaching moral values to things. It’s hard to agree on the definitions.

            More or less alive? Again, that is a judgment call that relies on definitions of life and moral value. It shows why any discussions of a moral-value hierarchy is inherently flawed.

            Great questions. They point exactly in the direction of the difficulty in making arguments about what is “worth” more.Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to John Howard Griffin
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      says:

      “Each human has a non-zero negative impact on the survival of one or more other forms of life. Each human means that other forms of life will not be “born”, will be killed, or will otherwise not survive. ”

      Not necessarily. Without humans, x number of animals will kill one another, with one sub set of creatures developing brains and certain cognitive capacities, it’s possible thought not necessary that they would prevent animals from killing one another.

      That is, there are imaginable scenarios in which the addition of “humanity” leads to a net positive when we look at the sum of animals negatively impacted and to what degree.Report

      • Avatar John Howard Griffin in reply to E.C. Gach
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        says:

        But, here you’re just playing with the moral-value hierarchy again. If a species goes extinct because of humans, how is that overcome with the positives of another species?

        This type of philosophical comfort is ingrained in humans – it is what allows us to do what we do to other forms of life without care or remorse.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to John Howard Griffin
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          says:

          When it comes to doing what is done to other forms of life without care or remorse, are humans particularly unique?

          If so, that might explain why some consider them particularly valuable.Report

          • Avatar John Howard Griffin in reply to Jaybird
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            says:

            When it comes to doing what is done to other forms of life without care or remorse, are humans particularly unique?

            “Unique” in that humans are better at it? “Unique” in that humans are the only form of life that does it? “Unique” in some other way?

            I don’t follow what you are driving at.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to John Howard Griffin
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              says:

              Unique in that they are significantly different from any given example between any two hand-picked forms of life and their relationship to each other.

              You know. Unique. Different. Without analogy.Report

              • Avatar John Howard Griffin in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                So, humans are unique and that makes them more valuable than other forms of life? You’re using the anthropocentric moral-value hierarchy again.

                All forms of life are unique. Different. Without analogy.

                So, I suppose this means that…..ALL life is valuable?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to John Howard Griffin
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                says:

                The assertion that I made was that “unique” would explain why some consider humans particularly valuable.

                I stand by that assertion. (Note: It makes no claims as to the value (or even the uniqueness) but as to explanatory power.)

                So, I suppose this means that…..ALL life is valuable?

                There are two ways to read that (well, there are probably a billion, but I’ll be brief).

                The Jainist take (to grab an oversimplifying example) would be because that’s because everything is pretty much priceless…

                vs. the Fuggit take (to grab an even more oversimplifying example) which is because everything is pretty much worthless.Report

              • Avatar Boegiboe in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Hmm, I was typing a long reply above while you guys were having this discussion (so I didn’t see your thoughts). In it, I happened upon the uniqueness idea, too, though I tried to define in terms of replaceability.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Boegiboe
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                says:

                I was tempted to respond to your uniqueness argument with discussions of my four cats.

                I thought better of it but it’d be dishonest of me to not say that I really sat and thought about it.Report

              • Avatar John Howard Griffin in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                The Jainist take (to grab an oversimplifying example) would be because that’s because everything is pretty much priceless…

                vs. the Fuggit take (to grab an even more oversimplifying example) which is because everything is pretty much worthless.

                It sounds (by your repeated oversimplifications) like you are saying that without the anthropocentric moral-value hierarchy, this discussion is meaningless?

                What I’m trying to say is that there are inherent flaws in humans trying to measure value because we are…humans. It is in our nature to think we are the greatest form of life in the history of the universe.

                The assertion that I made was that “unique” would explain why some consider humans particularly valuable.

                Understood and agreed.

                This assertion also explains why some consider certain “types” of humans to be particularly valuable (or, at least, more valuable than other “types”).Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to John Howard Griffin
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                says:

                It sounds (by your repeated oversimplifications) like you are saying that without the anthropocentric moral-value hierarchy, this discussion is meaningless?

                If this discussion has meaning, it’s certainly not *INTRINSIC* to the discussion, is it?

                If it has meaning, it only has relative meaning because, for some reason, a singularly small sub-group of humans are having it and consider it meaningful, no?

                A same old song?
                Just a drop of water in an endless sea?
                All we do crumbles to the ground though we refuse to see!

                Dust in the wind.
                All we are is dust in the wind.Report

        • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to John Howard Griffin
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          says:

          “That is, there are imaginable scenarios in which the addition of “humanity” leads to a net positive when we look at the sum of animals negatively impacted and to what degree.”

          What I mean by this is that there is no reason why adding humans to the rest of the animal/life kingdom is necessarily a net negative.

          No, we do not treat other sentient beings with respect or concern for their pleasure/pain for the most part. But there is no reason why this need be the case. There is no reason why at time T in the future, humans would treat animals in such a way that predators are kept from the prey, and both are fed and given enjoyable living environments (not saying this will be the case or is practical).

          And anyway, yes humans mistreat other animals, but so do other animals. I’m not sure we are particularly worse in proportion to our number, at least not by inherently (i.e. I’m all for us eating less meat/killing less animals per capita.)Report

          • Avatar John Howard Griffin in reply to E.C. Gach
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            says:

            Each human on this planet (on average) consumes vastly more resources on the planet than any other species that we know about. In this, we are truly unique.

            Given that we live on a finite planet with finite resources, this means that each human consumes resources that might be used by other life. Therefore, each human contributes vastly more negative consequences on other forms of life than positive consequences. We have become too successful and have no natural predators to keep us in check anymore.

            Regarding other animals mistreating animals: this is a difference in degree. How many species have caused as many extinctions, in as short a period of time, as humans? This isn’t just about mistreatment, but also about the eradication of entire forms of life. No other form of life on this planet eradicates other forms of life in the way that humans do. Mountains and molehills – they’re both bumps in the ground, but differ in degree.Report

          • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to E.C. Gach
            Ignored
            says:

            Each human on this planet (on average) consumes vastly more resources on the planet than any other species that we know about.

            But there is no reason why we need do this. So there is no reason why humans, unlike other forms of life, must be worse, only that they happen to have acted that way.

            All life being equal though, why does it matter if one kills another to survive? And if you hold that all life is equal, and life is good, therefore more life is better, are you suggesting that humans should kill themselves all off and let micro bacteria flourish since it would lead to trillions and trillions more lives?

            I’m just confused because in one breadth you critique humanity, while in another saying that humanity’s morals are skewed and therefore suspect. Well if the latter is true than the former is suspect, and you lack grounds on which to make these critiques at all.Report

            • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to E.C. Gach
              Ignored
              says:

              I’m an unapologetic human chauvinist. If there’s one hungry child and a polar bear to eat, the question of “morality” is a no-brainer.

              A Garden of Eden without man in it has no reason, purpose, or meaning.Report

            • Avatar John Howard Griffin in reply to E.C. Gach
              Ignored
              says:

              But there is no reason why we need do this. So there is no reason why humans, unlike other forms of life, must be worse, only that they happen to have acted that way.

              Agreed. I was focusing on what humans do, not what they could have done. If we are to judge, we must judge on actions, not on potential to action.

              I’m just confused because in one breadth you critique humanity, while in another saying that humanity’s morals are skewed and therefore suspect. Well if the latter is true than the former is suspect, and you lack grounds on which to make these critiques at all.

              Precisely! Human morality and critiques of morality are not to be trusted because of the biases of being human. I am a human. Therefore, my morality and critiques of morality are not to be trusted. QED.

              (But, maybe I am wrong and I really should be trusted?)

              Man is a Reasoning Animal. Such is the claim. I think it is open to dispute.

              – Mark Twain

              Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to John Howard Griffin
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                says:

                Right, it’s like saying “all I say is lies.”

                It’s nonsensical and has no meaning. You are a human, as such you are unable to make that meta critique because that would itself be based on your own humanity. It doesn’t help us get anywhere.

                Skepticism like that is self-defeating and enlightens no one.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to E.C. Gach
                Ignored
                says:

                Exactly, Mr. Gach. Only humans have “morality,” whatever that term means. “Nature” has none; it’s what kills you.

                Further, in rejecting “potentiality,” Mr. Griffin rejects quite a live branch of metaphysics, metaphysics also being a unique human capability. The “natural man”—or the “sophisticated” man—is the enemy of philosophy, hence of his own humanity.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to tom van dyke
                Ignored
                says:

                To say that only humans have morality sorta begs the question of what morality is doesn’t it? There are nonhuman primates with a sense of what they should and shouldn’t do, for example. They don’t write treatises on it, but it guides their behavior. What is that? It looks a lot like morality to me.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Chris
                Ignored
                says:

                Agreed. I don’t think it’s a have/have not, but more of a continuum of moral sensibility. This sensibility generally has to do with social interaction (though perhaps not always) and is made possible by certain kinds of brain functions that different creatures have to differing degrees. More social creatures seem to have a feeling of “right/wrong” more so than the unsocial ones. And creatures with more/higher brain function seem to be more concerned with some concept of “right/wrong” as well (though of course there are exceptions).Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Chris
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                says:

                Or, postulating non-human “morality” is anthropomorphizing instinct and learned social behavior.

                Interesting, though, and it illustrates the problem with the term “morality,” which is why I tend to avoid it.

                I still have difficulty that there are non-human concepts of right and wrong, or non-human concepts atall, philosophizing and metaphysics and such stuff being a solely human province.

                Nature does not philosophize, nor are the concepts of right and wrong applicable.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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                says:

                Tom, you’re just begging the question, again. Or rather, you’ve defined morality already, with all the attendant implications of that definition (which are many). But there’s plenty of empirical evidence that our own moral concepts and judgments are little more than “instinct and learned social behavior” (in fact, a growing body of evidence that instinct, or at least intuition, make up the bulk of our moral cognition, and some, perhaps most of it may be innate).

                Also, I wonder what you mean by concepts when you say that animals don’t have them. They certainly do in the sense that contemporary psychologists and analytic philosophers think of concepts. It seems unlikely that any nonhuman animals (except maybe dolphins and mice) think much about metaphysics, but I’m not sure we want to make that the sole measure of their ability to think and act ethically.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Chris
                Ignored
                says:

                How can I beg the question when I don’t know what it is?

                You say animals philosophize, or have morality, or ethics, or whatever. Fine, you have the floor.

                In my view, you’re either anthropomorphizing the animals, or as is the bent of this “new” science, dragging man down to the animal level, no more or less than the sum of his neurons and conditioning.

                Rock on. When a chimp is moved to make a painting of a sunset, we’ll pick it up then.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to tom van dyke
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                says:

                Tom, way to shift the goal posts. I don’t know why a chimp needs to paint a sunset in order to have morality or ethics (I don’t recall saying they philosophize).

                And I don’t know what’s anthropomorphic about saying that morality, or ethics (“morality” tends to have theistic overtones) involve some level of understanding, reflected in behavior, of what one should and shouldn’t do in a particular situation.

                This isn’t about bringing humans down to the level of nonhuman animals (we are, after all, animals ourselves). It’s about understanding our own behavior. You’re the one with your motives and biases on your sleeve here, not me. I simply wanted to point out that what “morality” is comes prior to determining whether humans are alone in having it, so that when you say that we are the only ones who have it, you’ve already built a bunch into the term that is up for dispute.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Chris
                Ignored
                says:

                Chris, I don’t know what “morality” means to an empiricist like yourself. That’s why I don’t use it.

                You have the floor. If you say something interesting I’ll respond. Otherwise, leave me and your view of me out of it.

                For me, your view of reality is too “compact,” as Voegelin put it, to engage.

                And actually, chimps painting sunsets has absolutely everything to do with it.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Chris
                Ignored
                says:

                Chris,

                This is fascinating: “But there’s plenty of empirical evidence that our own moral concepts and judgments are little more than “instinct and learned social behavior” (in fact, a growing body of evidence that instinct, or at least intuition, make up the bulk of our moral cognition, and some, perhaps most of it may be innate).”

                What is ‘morality?’ Who is man? What is the difference/if any betwixt man and beast?Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
                Ignored
                says:

                Tom, I’m just pointing out assumptions and biases. If you don’t find that interesting, that’s your own issue, and I won’t bother with it.

                Also, I suspect that the “empiricism” that you’re thinking of and the “empiricism” that I adhere to are two different things, or at least different poles of the same broad cateogory of positions. It’s good, however, that you know how “compact” it is, though.

                Also, being able to paint a sunset and being able to appreciate one are two different things.

                Bob, good questions. The very ones I was raising, in fact, or at least pointing out that they were implied by what Tom said, and that he himself apparently finds uninteresting.Report

              • Avatar John Howard Griffin in reply to E.C. Gach
                Ignored
                says:

                I was only pointing out the flaws of human logic and reasoning – the hidden biases and prejudices that affect us all.

                I consider that an important aspect to consider in philosophical discussions. What started as a critique of the consideration that human life > other life has lead to it’s natural (and paradoxical) conclusion. This is the edge, upon which all good philosophy explores, IMO.

                No room for doubt in a philosophical discussion, I suppose. I doubt myself and my beliefs every day. Keeps the body healthy.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to John Howard Griffin
                Ignored
                says:

                I did not mean to infer that doubt and humility are not helpful. They are. They offer clarity and help us to see/understand better. But you seemed to be offering doubt without an alternative. All this stuff is doubtful. Admitting such might keep the body healthy, sooner or later we must offer up something in doubt’s place in order to test it, repeat and move on.Report

              • Avatar John Howard Griffin in reply to E.C. Gach
                Ignored
                says:

                Simply said: to test is to doubt. Alternatives are not necessary to test (or to doubt).

                Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to E.C. Gach
                Ignored
                says:

                “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” is quite an extraordinary claim to make, what extraordinary evidence do you base it on?Report

              • Avatar John Howard Griffin in reply to E.C. Gach
                Ignored
                says:

                Laplace, Truzzi, Sagan and other appeals to authority.Report

              • Avatar Boegiboe in reply to E.C. Gach
                Ignored
                says:

                Thank you, that made me smile.Report

              • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to E.C. Gach
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                says:

                I agree. In a sense this whole line of thought is like arguing that we’re all brains in a vat or being skeptical about the existence of other minds. There is nothing to disprove these sorts of claims, and each claim is internally consistent and logical, but we need to decide what to do regarding public policy, so we should defer to the tools that have proven most successful in the past – horribly imperfect and fundamentally flawed though they are – since that’s all we got.Report

  11. Avatar Will H.
    Ignored
    says:

    Risky behaviors come with risk.
    Sometimes that risk is realized, sometimes it is not.
    I don’t see where the moral judgment is.

    The test seems a bit flawed to me.
    It needs another question or two I would think.Report

  12. Avatar DensityDuck
    Ignored
    says:

    I can’t go to the site at work, due to filtering.

    But I have to say that, given all the myriad ways that children die, I wouldn’t necessarily rank “miscarriage” as a serious medial issue either–with the caveat that any number of unintentionally dead babies is too many, and that ranking miscarriage as “less serious” on a relative scale doesn’t mean I believe it’s not serious.

    And, frankly, I doubt that the philosophy test lets me make that distinction.Report

  13. Avatar Steve S.
    Ignored
    says:

    “opposition to abortion tends to come disproportionately from the religious…Were pro-lifers to change tactics, embrace the framework I have provided above…”

    In other words, if people who believe that a god-man was born to a virgin, raised people from the dead, then rose from the dead himself would only embrace your utilitarian matrix…Report

  14. Avatar AMW
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    says:

    Nevertheless, as one moves from the left side of the matrix to the right side – from the direction of all life being of the same worth to an extreme accruement of moral value as a function of development – the logical implications trend in the direction of restrictions on abortion laws.

    That is to say that there is a clear dominant strategy for the the perfect anti-abortion crusader, which is to minimize the value of the right to choose and to prefer strongly gradiential values attached to humans at different stages of devlopment, and this dominant strategy holds for all scenarios.

    In game theory one only gets to choose the row or the column. In this case, my guess is that pro-lifers tend to focus on the column, while pro-choicers focus on the row. Given that set-up, it’s not a dominant strategy to choose strongly gradiential values. This is because for Value of Right to Choose = 1, the most pro-life strategy is All Life Has Same Moral Value.

    Moreover, my guess is that playing Value of Right to Choose = 2 (virtually) never occurs among modern western pro-choice advocates, precisely because the morality of ancient Rome is so repellent. So we can more or less eliminate that row. Within the remainder of the matrix, All Life Has Same Moral Value is clearly the dominant strategy for pro-life advocates.

    That, I suspect, is why it is the strategy chosen so consistently by the pro-life side.Report

    • Avatar Boegiboe in reply to AMW
      Ignored
      says:

      Varying the value of the right to choose is actually quite common among modern western pro-choice advocates. Very few will say that a woman has a clear right to an abortion a week before her due date, yet all pro-choice advocates will say the anti-implantation birth control technologies are just fine, even though they destroy an embryo. But, it’s not that they’re just choosing a bright line based on the state of the fetus. The potential mother has accepted a certain amount of responsibility for attempting to bear a child when she does nothing about the pregnancy for the first 8 and a half months, which is responsibility she hasn’t accepted to the same degree when she has sex and then swallows a pill to prevent embryo implantation.Report

  15. Avatar BlaiseP
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    says:

    If we are to consider this as a Utilitarian Framework, we ought to inject another term into this matrix: is the respondent a man or a woman?

    It is, at the end of all the theorizing, a woman’s problem. Men do not have to carry the foetus to term. There’s an argument to be made for the man’s contribution, a single sperm, but that’s not germane here: no provision has been made in this matrix for the ontological viewpoint: how would women respond, facing the consequences of pregnancy far more directly than men.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP
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      says:

      Surely then women are TOO close to the problem. Indeed, the introduction of a fetus bathes the woman’s brain in a hormone bath that makes adolescence look like Solomon and Buddha wrapped up together in a tortilla, deep fried, and smothered in sausage gravy with cheese sprinkled on top.

      As such, surely the topic belongs to those who are capable of discussing it disinterestedly.

      (We wouldn’t say that only soldiers could discuss DADT (indeed, they’re the only ones affected by it, no?). We shouldn’t discriminate on the basis of sex when it comes to who is and who is not allowed deal with various ethical/moral problems.)Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird
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        says:

        … at which point, is it still a Utilitarian Framework?

        In point of fact, while I was in the Army in the early 70s, my unit had several gay soldiers. We all knew who they were and protected them from retribution. Our instinct for unit cohesion overcame whatever homophobia might have come along from the civilian world. FNGs were told to get with the plan: those gay men were in our unit, they were good soldiers. Even the battalion commander knew and said nothing.Report

    • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to BlaiseP
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      says:

      Another suprising result of the experiment is that men tend to be more in favor of pro-choice positions.Report

  16. Avatar Chris
    Ignored
    says:

    I was hinting at this in the comments in response to Tom, but part of the problem here is that it’s becoming increasingly clear from empirical work on moral judgment (I’d be happy to give someone cites if they’re interested) that humans aren’t very good at consequentialism, at least not when they’re personally/emotionally involved in a situation/issue. Sure, when we’re emotionally separated from a situation/issue, we can do a sort of utilitarian calculus, at least in fairly obvious cases (e.g., the trolley problem), but let’s face it, there aren’t many situations or issues that call for moral judgments in everyday life from which we’re emotionally removed. Abortion certainly isn’t such an issue, which means that no amount of number talk is going to sway the vast majority of people in either direction. Our judgments about abortion, or other emotionally-charged moral issues, are largely intuitive and automatic, and the arguments we make, or the arguments we’re likely to accept, are largely used for post hoc rationalizations of our intuitive judgments.

    This is not to say that people can’t be swayed one way or another on this issue or other moral issues; it just means that the sorts of arguments required to do the swaying won’t tend to be utilitarian, or if they are, it won’t be the utilitarian calculus, but the emotional response to it, that’s doing the work. Utiltarian arguments also tend to be at a disadvantage, from this perspective, because they involve taboo tradeoffs. These tend to, in a sense, shut down our cool reasoning system, and activate the hot one, and it’s with the hot reasoning system that utilitarian arguments fair so poorly.

    Even if we accept that people are rational moral arbiters (we’re not), utilitarian arguments aren’t going to fair well against deontological moral positions, which is exactly what “pro-life” positions are. This is why, even though from a practical standpoint anti-sex ed, anti-contraception, and pro-abstinence positions are likely to increase the number of abortions, it seems perfectly consistent to many pro-lifers to think abortion is morally wrong and its practice should be minimized if not eliminated, and at the same time to advocate abstinence-only education and limits on if not the complete denial of access to contraception. Since abortion and pre-marital/non-procreative sex are morally wrong, both have to be abolished, even if in practice abolishing one results in more of the other.Report

    • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to Chris
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      says:

      I was with you 100% for the first two paragraphs, and sympathize with your third, but aren’t our policy and legal systems sort of designed to mitigate the problems of emotional bias? Even if I believe at an emotional instinctual level that all abortion is wrong, I need to craft a rational argument to make headway with legislatures or the courts.Report

    • Avatar Heidegger in reply to Chris
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      says:

      Chris writes: “These tend to, in a sense, shut down our cool reasoning system, and activate the hot one, and it’s with the hot reasoning system that utilitarian arguments fair so poorly.”

      Cool reasoning system. It’s quite obvious that you are stating people who are in the pro-life camp are not temperamentally and cognitively capable of utilizing our “cool reasoning system”.
      Your logic: pro-life=crazy, emotional, ignorant, irrational, hot-headed religious fanatics–no longer able to utilize their cool reasoning system.
      Pro-choice:=calm, logical, rational, thoughtful, intelligent–fully in control of their “cool reasoning system.”

      An embryo is a complete, total, distinct, genetic entity. If a human being’s lack of brainwaves or a heart beat are used as a sign of death, why can’t the presence of either just as easily be used as a sign of life?

      Am I missing something here?Report

  17. Avatar Chris
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    says:

    but aren’t our policy and legal systems sort of designed to mitigate the problems of emotional bias?

    No, not in the least! I mean, not even a little bit. The legal system is a bit unique, because it requires that arguments be rational within a particular framework. That is, arguments for or against something don’t necessarily have to be rational in general, just within the particular legal context in which they’re being put forward. The legal system is more like a game, and you have to follow the rules; as long as you’re doing so, you’re being “rational” as far as the legal system cares. As for legislation, a casual perusal of the history of laws in this country will show quite clearly that “rational” is hardly a requirement for laws, or the arguments in favor or against them. If you can convince constituents (to the extent that they’re paying attention), or if someone gives you enough money, what the hell do rational arguments matter?Report

    • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to Chris
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      says:

      Granted, neither system is perfect, and I will agree with you that the legal system is like a game, where the rules are set in advance and players must follow the rules when participating. I still think the basic premise behind republican government based on a constitution, the seperation and clear demarcation of powers, proscriptions against ex post facto laws, and the supermajorities required to change legal structures is to insulate us from the sudden madness of crowds. The fact that we’ve lapsed from those principles very often doesn’t undermine them. The ideal that policy should be formulated dispassionately still prevails.Report

  18. Avatar David Cheatham
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    says:

    A couple of points:

    Firstly, G and H are bit goofy. The ‘right to choose’ is usually about what a woman can do with her body. Once the baby is no longer in her body, she really doesn’t have sayso over it’s existence at all.

    If ‘the right to choose’ is based on the premise she doesn’t have to care for it before it’s born, then she presumably also has a right to choose not to care for her baby after it’s born…but that doesn’t mean it needs to die. Even if it has less value than her, it still has some value, and the government could require it be turned over to them instead of being killed.

    As long as the entity under discussion has some value, even .0001 value, and it can exist without infringing on someone’s right, there is no moral arithmetic at all, so there’s no actual G and H at all, and anything at or after ‘Newborn infant’ is pointless to list. You only have to weigh competing value when they’re actually in conflict.

    And secondly, this provides an interesting framework to think about the rape and incest exception. Clearly, under the law, that should be an additional row. There should be a row of ‘normal pregnancies right to choose’ and then a ‘rape or incest pregnancies right to choose’ row.

    But that’s a very strange result. Why, exactly, do women who have had that happen to them have more of a right to choose? Why are they worth 1.5 , or whatever?Report

    • G and H seem goofy only because they are deemed goofy by convention by our society. In many societies, children are considered the property of their parents, and as such they may be killed at parental discretion. I don’t really see any clear ethical dividing line in the few minutes when an infant leaves the womb and enters the world. I think the reasons why we as a society (and an incredibly individualist one – to think that children are not the property of their parents!) don’t even allow for the possibility of legal infanticide are those you(ve articulated.

      I still haven’t figured out what to do about rape and incest, so I left them both out of this matrix. One of the weaknesses of my argument is that I have generally underserved the complexities of a variable right-to-choose I think. I assumed it was a constant, but as is pointed out by Boegiboe above, it probably diminishes as time goes by. It seems reasonable as well that the right to choose has more value for a seriously wronged individual who had no choice, no complicity at all in becoming pregnant.Report

      • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to Christopher Carr
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        says:

        Yeah, G and H are only goofy in a world where abortion is predicated on the concept ‘Women should not be forced to care for other people’, which is what the ‘right to choose’ generally is.

        And that generally is what it’s considered here. So the second that a women can keep from having to care for the child without having to kill it, there’s no way that their rights are in conflict, and her solution can be mandated to be ‘give the child up for adoption’ instead, which is exactly the same outcome for her.

        So, in the world we live in, the world of the matrix above, G and H and everything listed after birth is goofy. It’s not in, for example, ancient Rome. Where if I recall correctly, parents _always_ owned their male children, even as adults. (Female ownership, of course, was transferred to their spouse.)

        As for rape and incest, adding value to the right to choose if they have ‘no choice, no complicity at all in becoming pregnant.’ is, um, a rather surreal result. We’ve giving victims of a crime more right to infringe on _other people’s_ rights? Really? When did we start doing that? If someone steals my car, can punch some random person in the face?

        Or, alternately, more realistically, we can look at it the other way, because it’s exactly the same thing as saying ‘we should diminish the rights of women who chose to have sex’. Which is rather blatantly a misogynistic way of punishing ‘soiled women’ by reducing their rights.

        So, pick one there. Either we’re giving a really weird consolation prize of allowing rape victims to kill other people to ‘make up’ for being raped, or we’re attempting to punish women who have sex. Those are the two options, and the second seems a _lot_ more likely.

        The rape or incest exemption makes no sense at all, and yet society seems to be demanding it, which a) is most probably sexist, and b) implies they think in second or third column terms. (As that’s the only place the exemption makes sense.)Report

        • I don’t think there are any absurd or surreal results in the matrix, which is about weighing the right to choose against three (two) systems for measuring the value of human life at different stages of development.

          I wrote in the comments above:

          “…Ultimately the issue of abortion should come down to the moral value of the fetus. How the fetus came to be there should be irrelevent.

          My article was about pro-life on the margins, which would include focusing energy and activism on things like partial-birth and late-term abortions; i.e. existing law. Admittedly, utilitarian arguments are usually distasteful, and this distastefulness may include discounting the effects of rape or incest or age of the mother, but this framework is just meant to be a starting point.

          As for women and their needs, currently abortion law in the United States is the most liberal it has ever been (in no small part, I think, due to the pro-life side playing the game under protest).

          Perhaps this is a bit callous, but I think that especially in cases of rape or incest abortions should be performed as early as possible. I doubt there is much vascillation in the minds of victims of rape or incest of whether or not to carry a child to term, although I will admit that I am unfamiliar with the psychology of rape and apologize profoundly if I have offended anyone.

          By no means am I trying to underserve the seriousness of rape or incest as problems. They are both very serious problems and should command resources and attention. But the framework for evaluating these issues should be different from the framework for evaluating the ethical dimensions of terminating a human life.”

          I’m having a little trouble understanding some aspects of your response, however, which I’m hoping you’ll clarify.

          I’m assuming that by “punishing women who have sex” you mean discounting some value from the right to choose since women who had sex voluntary should know that the consequences of sex are sometimes unwanted pregnancy.

          If I’m understanding you correctly, I’d say that yes, women who know the potential consequences of their actions and do them anyways should be given less benefit of the doubt than women who are raped.

          I don’t think this is sexist except in the sense that only women can become pregnant. To turn it around and ask you a question, if a man is raped and this rape results in childbirth, does that man have the same obligation to support the child as a man who voluntarily engaged in sexual intercourse?Report

  19. Avatar David Cheatham
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    says:

    Oh, I agree that rape and incest should be removed as exceptions. There is absolutely no logical reason to treat them different.

    I was just pointing out that society tended to think otherwise, and is horrified and outraged when we don’t let ‘innocent women’ get abortions, which raises some rather interesting question about what, exactly, society thinks is going on.

    ‘discounting some value from the right to choose since women who had sex voluntary should know that the consequences of sex are sometimes unwanted pregnancy.’

    …so their ability to harm other people is lessened? Huh?

    Robbing people is illegal. Should be legal if the robber is attempting to collect the same amount of money that was stolen from him by a third party? Should it be legal if he took precautions against getting the original thing stolen, and illegal if he didn’t?

    Does that _really_ make sense to you? Of course not. Why the heck would it make sense to society, as it apparently does?

    It ‘make sense’ because society is misogynistic and at least some of the basis for banning abortion is nothing to do with the children and everything to do with ‘those women having sex get what they deserve’. This hits a brick wall when it runs into ‘rape’ (Which is a fairly recent development historically, but ‘blame the victim’ doesn’t play at all anymore, even in otherwise misogynistic environments) and they quickly attempt to exclude the victims, which rather reveals why they _actually_ want those women to carry the baby to term. Aka, punishment.

    As for the man who is raped question, no, but that’s because society can step in and cover those payments with absolutely no harm to the child. I.e, it’s a another situation where the rights are not in conflict. (Incidentally, I think it’s absurd that the government doesn’t make the child support payments itself, and just require the supporting parent to pay the government.)Report

  20. Avatar Christopher Carr
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    says:

    Yeah, whenever I hear about rape or incest in relation to abortion, it is usually along the lines of “so-and-so politician is against abortion even in cases of rape or incest!” as sort of a vehicle to make that politician into a monster for not caring about rape victims. Of course, I think this is fundamentally dishonest.

    The idea that the circumstances surrounding pregnancy somehow diminish the moral value of the fetus is highly illogical, but I still think that a reasonable case can be made – not saying I agree completely with that case – that a person who willingly engaged in an act mindful of the consequences has less of a right to undo that act. Of course, this argument assumes that we are in the second of third column of the matrix. Let’s imagine that in some world of perfect information (We’re discussing economics now.) we determine that there can be no abortions after ten weeks. This ten weeks would be the maximum amount of time allowed for pregnant women who did not voluntary consent; i.e. accept the potential consequences of their actions. Maybe for everyone else, we could determine eight weeks as the cut-off point. And I realize that this example has all kinds of problems, but I don’t consider it an unreasonable argument.

    Your argument assumes that the fetus is a separate and independent lifeform, but I think many would argue that – at least up until a certain point – the fetus is an organ of the mother’s body. I see this as a fundamentally intractable debate. But anyways, according to the logic entailed by this position, abortion is not at all the harming of another person, but a simple exercise in self determination. I think this kind of argument gets away from utilitarianism, and I’m starting to curse myself for even writing this damn thing in the first place, but it demonstrates I think that the “two wrongs don’t make a right” dimension is not a universal. And so, your robbery analogy becomes inappropriate given this view.

    I apologize for being obtuse, but I’m still a bit confused as to where you are arguing from, since your separation of the fetus and the mother seems to suggest pro-life tendencies, but your claims of society not allowing abortion because of mysogynism suggests pro-choice tendencies. I realize that this is immaterial to our individual arguments, but it seems there is a bit of us talking past each other (my pet peeve) so I would like to know.

    I actually really like your answer to the man getting raped question. That’s one of the more original thoughts I’ve come across in quite some time. I might offer that society should also financially support rape victims who carry their children to term and offer them up for foster care or adoption. What do you think about that idea?Report

  21. Avatar David Cheatham
    Ignored
    says:

    Yeah, whenever I hear about rape or incest in relation to abortion, it is usually along the lines of “so-and-so politician is against abortion even in cases of rape or incest!” as sort of a vehicle to make that politician into a monster for not caring about rape victims. Of course, I think this is fundamentally dishonest.

    Well, as I pointed out in some thread above, with my comments about ‘This is not a sane way to behave if you think it’s murder’ comment, I think the pro-life side is rather fundamentally dishonest in their arguments, and a lot of what they claim their objection is isn’t really their objection.

    When you take an actual real moral stance that ‘a fetus’s life is valuable’ (Whether you think it has a fixed value or grows.), it renders the whole incest or rape thing utterly nonsensical. Which rather implies the vast majority of ‘pro-life’ people, who recoil from not having the exception, are looking at it from some _other_ viewpoint, if you see what I mean.

    So using ‘even in cases of rape’ is, strangely, using the fundamentally dishonesty of most ‘normal’ pro-life people (Who do not believe it is murder, but instead, I believe, consider it ‘justice’ for those women having sex.), against the people who actually have consistent stands, and possibly actually do think it’s murder.

    As for me, I’m pro-choice, but I find inserting my own personal option into the debate ends up having people argue against that position instead of the abstract. And I’ll note that while your eight weeks and ten weeks seems reasonable to me, the reason it’s longer is that the pro-life movement does _everything it possibly can_ to make abortion hard to get and delay it.

    If women could literally walk down the street and get an abortion in two hours like any other outpatient procedure, that is a fine time frame. It’s not when they have to fly halfway across the state because protesters shut down the nearby clinics and then they have to have mandatory ‘consoling’ and then have to wait another few days and have to ‘notify’ parents or fathers or whatever and etc etc.

    And I think that society should financially support _all_ pregnant women who choose to carry a baby to term, however they got that way and whether or not they give it up for adoption. Because, you see, I don’t actually like abortion, and would rather we have as little of it as possible…and something like 75% of them are for financial reasons. we could trivially reduce abortions by half tomorrow if we made pregnancy less of a burden, paid the medical costs, thanked them at the end, and put the kid up for adoption. And, on top of that, children who have medical care during pregnancy turn out to have much less problems in life.

    But, as I said, a very very large segment of the pro-life side is fundamentally dishonest and doesn’t care about the children at all. They care that the dirty women (Although I suggest they’d use another word that starts the same and rhythm with ‘doors’.) who have sex have to ‘live with their decision’. Which is why such a thing will never happen, no matter how obvious it would reduce abortions.Report

    • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to David Cheatham
      Ignored
      says:

      > When you take an actual real moral stance that ‘a
      > fetus’s life is valuable’ (Whether you think it has a
      > fixed value or grows.), it renders the whole incest
      > or rape thing utterly nonsensical.

      Not necessarily.

      I mean, fifty years from now you can take the actual real moral stance that a fetus’s life is valuable… and *not* command that every woman walk around with a gadget with a bioreader implanted in her uterus that will detect a fertilized egg, capture it, and transport the egg to an artificial womb, because we’ve developed the technology to do that and the artificial womb has a better miscarriage prevention rate than a natural pregnancy.

      One can think a fetus is valuable, and a natural pregnancy is valuable, and a woman’s feelings are valuable, without assessing a ratio interval of “value” on all of the above.Report

      • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to Pat Cahalan
        Ignored
        says:

        Erm, yes, but that doesn’t change the fact that rape or incest doesn’t have anything to do with any of those.

        Well, except ‘feelings’, but that’s because that wrong. Women’s ‘feelings’ aren’t at issue here, the comparison is against ‘a woman’s right to not be forced to carry someone around inside her’.

        OTOH, a universe where the _feelings_ of women make it okay for those women to _kill_ _people_ is as equally bizarre as what I said, so really doesn’t help the ‘rape or incest’ exception’s sanity.

        There’s really no sane moral argument to justify that exemption. The only possible grounds are…women should be punished for sex with being forced to have a baby. So we won’t punish the women who didn’t choose to have sex, that would be immoral and unfair.

        That’s pretty much the only way that exemption logically works.

        And the fact that the vast majority of ‘pro-life’ thinks it’s a reasonable exemption…well….that really says a lot about them.Report

        • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to David Cheatham
          Ignored
          says:

          I believe the argument would be the pregnant woman incurred an obligation to the fetus by conceiving him/her through consensual sex.

          Since rape is nonconsensual, and the victim of incest is held to be incapable of informed consent, the exception is made. [By some.]Report

          • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to tom van dyke
            Ignored
            says:

            I’m pretty sure you just said what I said.

            It’s like when you litter, you can either ‘be punished with a fine for littering’, or, ‘you can ‘incur an obligation to the state to pay for the cleanup via a fine’.

            Just stating it in a different way doesn’t change things.Report

    • Avatar Kevin Kato in reply to David Cheatham
      Ignored
      says:

      In my experience most pro-lifers do not support abortion rights in the cases of rape or incest. I think you’re unreasonably caricaturing their positions, although I will say that I believe certainly equal blame for the sheer amount of abortion procedures, and primary blame for late term procedures falls square on the shoulders of the “pro-life” movement in the fashion you’ve described. I find it counterproductive, however, to turn it into a binary blame game a la the culture war, so I think that slow activism in convincing the elites of the pro-life movement that fighting their battles on the…ummm…battlefront is the correct strategy to pursue.

      All that other stuff I definitely agree with, since I would like to reduce abortion procedures as well. The idea of subsidizing childbirth seems especially reasonable.Report

      • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to Kevin Kato
        Ignored
        says:

        That was my response by the way. Kevin is a co-worker of mine and collaborates with me on the Inductive. I’m using the computer at work, Kevin’s information was already entered in the comment box, and I didn’t notice it until I had already submitted the post. Oops.Report

      • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to Kevin Kato
        Ignored
        says:

        I don’t think ‘most pro-lifers’, in the sense that most people _leading_ the movement, think that exception is a good idea.

        But there’s a vast majority of people out there who call themselves ‘pro-life’ that either:
        a) Think there should simply be ‘less’ abortion, and have no actual knowledge about how many there are or when they happen or anything, and when you ask them if they want to outlaw abortion they say no. (Which means they are not actually pro-life at all.); or

        b) Think that ‘people having sex and then getting an abortion should be punished’, in some sort of vague undefined way, and this is for, in their head, although they won’t actually formulate it this way, ‘punishment’, or ‘justice’. (And are horrified by the thought of rape victims being ‘punished’.)

        Neither of those groups, which I think actually make up the _majority_ of actual people who call themselves ‘pro-life’, are actually pro-life. They are either people who find abortion distasteful and have been utterly confused by the rhetoric of the pro-life side, or they are anti-women/anti-sex.

        And the idea of the pro-life groups playing ‘fair’ is crazy, because if they played fair, they would _lose_. They have to mislead people, because something like 80% of the people out there do not think having an abortion should be punishable, or at most a small fine, when actually asked that question. And a good 50% of those non-punishment people delusionally identify as ‘pro-life’.

        If the pro-life and pro-choice side actually sat everyone down, and said ‘Okay, we’re going to vote and restrict abortion exactly how the majority of people want it.’, the pro-choice people would win, because most people do not actually want legal restrictions before 12 weeks or 16 weeks or whatever. (Which is, of course, a pro-choice position.)

        I’m not even sure that, if that was done per-state, that _any_ state would end up with abortion illegal. Maybe four or five states could outright ban it.

        Which results in the pro-life side having to constantly mislead people about what’s going on with abortion, to make the women ‘evil women’, or pretend that late-term abortions ever happen except for medical reasons, to use delays they _themselves_ cause as evidence of ‘immorality’, etc, etc.Report

        • I think you bring up some good points. I’d be interested in knowing whether or not there are any opinion polls out there that try to pin down the actual date according to popular opinion, when people wish to outlaw abortion.

          What do the numbers look like? Is the average say 12 weeks, with two kind of local maximums around two weeks and 16 weeks? I’d be willing to bet that if we had those numbers, they’d be far more restrictive of abortion rights than our current system, however, by virtue of including pro-lifers, who as it is basically just sit such discussions out.Report

          • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to Christopher Carr
            Ignored
            says:

            If we had those numbers, they’d be somewhat more restrictive that our current system is _legally_, but, practically 95% of abortions would already happen before that point anyway.

            However, I’d expect the average to be somewhere around 20 weeks, although 16 weeks wouldn’t surprise me. But 12 weeks would, at least nationally.

            While I don’t have it anymore, I once had a chart that listed the ‘What percentage of what states felt about abortion’, and of the responses that would result in abortion being illegal, aka ‘throwing doctors and/or women in jail’, the most any state got was around 45%, and most states were around 30%.

            No state managed to actually poll at over 50% of wishing to actually ‘outlaw’ abortion in the sense of, you know, actually making it _illegal_.

            The vast majority of people who wanted to ‘outlaw’ it and were pro-life apparently thought there should be a fine, which is a) absurd for ‘killing someone’, and b) a rather idiotic and classist response….so only rich or middle class people can get abortions? Why, that’s interestingly bigoted.Report

            • Yeah, turning it into a fine downplays the serious ethical dilemma it is. That just doesn’t make any sense at all.Report

              • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to Christopher Carr
                Ignored
                says:

                Well, you can tell how honest a political movement is by taking the actual stated political position it has, and seeing how many ‘followers’ of that movement actually agree with the stated positions.

                If the followers mostly agree with it, that is a winning position, it’s actually gotten people to agree with it.

                If the followers act baffled or mostly disagree, or if the leaders themselves can’t figure it out, and yet there are a lot of people who describe themselves as followers of that position, then the political position is probably either a) very complicated, so complicated it doesn’t belong on the political map, or b) actively misleading people, probably both about the facts, and either its position or, more likely, the other side.

                With abortion, it’s people being mislead about the pro-choice side, and the actual facts about abortions, stuff that can be easily disproved just by glancing at wikipedia.

                Likewise, the Tea Party movement is _epicly_ dishonest under this test. So they’re against…taxes? Do they not know that taxes are lower than under Bush? That they are essentially the lowest they’ve ever been, or at least within a percentage or two?

                And, just to be fair, PETA is just as dishonest.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to David Cheatham
          Ignored
          says:

          It really ticks me off when people say “oh, you don’t believe (thing), therefore you’re not REALLY (member of group)!”

          Of course, I can understand why people would do this; it’s a lot easier to dehumanize your opponents when you believe that they’re all just bundles of reprehensible beliefs, with no individuality or thought among them. It’s also fun to pretend that everyone you disagree with would actually agree with you if only they thought about it a bit.

          I guess what I’m asking is: If they aren’t pro-life, then what are they? Saying that abortion is immoral is considered a pretty strong litmus-test indicator that you aren’t pro-choice. Are you instead suggesting that individual opinions regarding abortion aren’t important in defining someone as pro-life/pro-choice? That it’s solely one’s feeling about the legality and availability of the procedure?

          That’s a remarkably pragmatist view, but I’m not sure that either side of the debate would be comfortable with that definition.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to DensityDuck
            Ignored
            says:

            I think that adultery is immoral but I’m also pretty sure that the government ought not prosecute it.

            There are plenty of things that I consider immoral but not a good idea to give the government the right to send SWAT to your house and shoot your dog.

            It always bugs me to read the argument “if you *REALLY* thought that X was immoral, you’d support police power to try to prevent it.”Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
              Ignored
              says:

              Additionally, italipocalypses are, if not immoral, unethical.Report

            • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to Jaybird
              Ignored
              says:

              Yeah, I know. I go around calling myself pro-gun-control and everyone assumes I’m in favor of passing laws to control guns. Just because I think guns are bad and dangerous doesn’t mean I’m in of laws banning then. I have no idea why people, when I call myself ‘pro-gun-control’, leap to that conclusion. (Note, I am not actually pro-gun-control, or even anti-gun)

              More seriously, ‘pro-life’ is a political position with the stated political goal of making abortion less legal. In fact, making it utterly illegal, but if someone wants to dispute that, I have no problem say ‘less legal’.

              If you thin abortion is immoral but should be legal, you are, in fact, ‘pro-choice’. That is the _political_ position you hold. Pro-life and pro-choice are political positions. They are entirely concerned with what sort of laws you want.

              If you want to come up with some moral position meaning ‘abortion should be legal but is immoral’, then you probably want to pick a name that isn’t already used, and picking one that is a political position that is opposite your political position is extremely silly.

              Perhaps ‘anti-abortion’ would work? The slogan ‘safe, legal, and rare’ is what politicians tend to use, although that’s not really a name.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to David Cheatham
                Ignored
                says:

                I call myself “pro-choice” in comment number 48 (it’s 48 at this moment in time, anyway).

                But if I said that I thought that the US should be more like The Netherlands or Finland with regards to abortion law, would that make me “pro-life”?

                Is Finland a “pro-life” country?Report

              • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                Well, it’s an interesting question.

                Like I said, the pro-life movement appears to regard almost any abortion as something that should be illegal, so if you want legalized abortion, you probably don’t belong in that group. However, they know this is unlikely at this moment in time, so are moving the laws, so you might end up ‘on their side’.

                OTOH, it’s sorta down to whether or not you want Roe V. Wade overturned, at least for 90% of the people. But not for all…I’m pro-choice, but I’m someone who actually does want it overturned, simply so the pro-life people will _lose_, once and for all.

                Like I said somewhere here, there isn’t a majority even in South Dakota to actually ban abortion. Yes, it might win ballot measures, but weird things win ballot measures. Until it’s overturned, the pro-life people will play martyr and use misleading polls and misidentify themselves and claim support for laws they simply have no actual support for. If you actually showed women being put in prison for having an abortion, it simply could not stay illegal. So I want Roe v. Wade overturned, but that’s just me.

                Bu, back on topic…in general, I would say that ‘pro-life want it mostly illegal’, and ‘pro-choice want it mostly legal’, and there probably is some overlap….but the overlap is way way to the pro-life side compared to now.Report

          • Avatar David Cheatham in reply to DensityDuck
            Ignored
            says:

            Yes, the sole defining difference for a _political position_ is what you want the _laws_ to be. Period.

            If you want to argue there’s the abstract moral position that you are that deserves a name, that for some reason we need a way to refer to people who think abortion is immoral, go ahead and invent one, but ‘pro-life’ is already taken.

            ‘Pro-life’ is a _political_ position that wishes abortion to be illegal, so you can’t call yourself that. If you want to name ‘the group of people who think abortion is immoral’, you go right ahead, but you can’t really just barge in and take the actual name of a political position, despite not wanting the same thing.

            That’s absurd, confusing, and insulting, and, no, you don’t get to be offended if you do so and people confuse you with the political position you’ve taken the name of.

            Although I don’t know _why_ you think such a name is required. We have no such name for people who think that adultery is or isn’t immoral, or who think that wearing fancy clothing is or isn’t immoral. We don’t name any other group of people based on moral beliefs like that. (We have terms for entire systems of morality, or basis of morality that spawn systems, but not generally individual beliefs like that.)Report

  22. Avatar Murali
    Ignored
    says:

    One of the problems with the footballer/violinist example is that it does not closely mirror the burdens placed on a pregnant woman. A person chained/hooked up to the violinist is far less mobile and has less privacy than a woman even on the day before she goes into labour. In fact, women who are bed-ridden by pregnancy often fall into the special exemption case for many pro-lifers.

    Its like this. Consider two cases.

    1. You’re drowning and I’m a few meters away and I can throw you a life preserver. This will save your life

    2. You’re drowning and I have to jump in ad swim to you nad try to save you at significant risk to my own.

    Sure’ly I’more obligated in the first instance and less so in the latter.Report

  23. Avatar bookdragon
    Ignored
    says:

    This is all very interesting, and a good argument, though I would quibble that whatever is claimed from a philosophical point of view, *in practice* a significant number of the anti-abortion crowd does not regard an adult woman’s life to be of equal or greater value than a foetus/embyro’s. Otherwise there would be no cases like the famous one in Ireland where a hospital could not perform an abortion to save the life of a woman hemorrhaging from a miscarriage because there was a detectable fetal heartbeat. This is not an aberration, btw, I know a number of women who absolutely will not go to a Catholic hospital if pregnant because putting the mother’s life last is effectively required by policy.

    The other interesting question wrt miscarriage though gets further into the weeds wrt right to self-determination since there are any number of day-to-day activities and choices that increase the likelihood of miscarriage. Everything from drug use (even legal drugs like nicotine or alcohol) to dietary choices (like soft cheeses, sushi,etc.) to occupational hazards. That’s where the A and B camp anti-abortion set gets into the real tangle because if the life of an foetus always trumps the woman’s self-determination, how far can society go in places restrictions to protect the foetus?

    I’m an engineer, not a philosopher, so I can’t frame that in the proper terms, but it’s something along with the question of whether most birth control can be banned on the grounds of theoretically having the potential to cause very early abortions, that causes many of us who would generally be in favor of reducing or preventing most abortions to nevertheless be very wary of the ‘pro-life’ movement.Report

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